Henry Harben and his ‘Dictionary of London’

Henry Harben's Dictionary of London is a detailed gazetteer of over 6000 street and place names in the City of London; their location, origin and changes. Henry Harben died in 1910 and his work was published posthumously in 1918. Unfortunately Harben died before being able to complete the extension of his work to cover Westminster and Southwark. He is unknown to the DNB and Wikipedia, although there is a cricketer and an industrialist who share his name. Our man's full name was Henry Andrade Harben. This well researched piece about him was found in the front of a copy of his dictionary in the collection of Ralph Hyde, a great scholar of London history and topography.

Harben's Dictionary (of just 'Harben' as it tends to be called) is one of the most useful London reference books ever to have been complied and published, yet scarcely anyone has heard of it. Copies of it surface very rarely. When a copy does, dealers charge the earthier for it, selling it to a few who are in the know*.

'Harben' appeared in 1918. It's compiler, Henry Andrade Harben, was born in 1849, graduated from the University of London in 1868, and called to the Bar by Lincoln's Inn in 1871. He was a Justice of the Peace for Buckinghamshire and the County of London. In 1879 he became a director of the Prudential Assurance Company, and in 1907 its Chairman. He was a member of the Paddington Vestry and became Mayor of Paddington. In 1898 he was elected a member for South Paddinton of the London County Council, on which he served as Chairman of the Public Control Committee. He was Chairman of the Central Hospital Council for London, and in 1903 became Chairman of the Board of Management of St. Mary's Hospital**.

In addition to being a lawyer and involving himself in London government, Harben was a scholar. He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries on 9th March 1893. In c.1888 he began the labour of compiling a new edition of John Stow's 'Survey of London'. Stow's book, a written survey, not a plan, which systematically described London district by district, had first appeared in 1598. Periodically it had been revised. In the eighteenth century it had been totally overhauled by John Strype who published his greatly extended version of it in two large volumes in 1720 and 1755. Henry Harben resolved to follow in Strype's footsteps.

Harben's work was meticulous and thorough, and progress painfully slow. In 1908, to his horror, Charles Lethbridge Kingsford brought out a new edition of Stow's 'Survey' with a volume of notes. On seeing it Harben abandoned his own attempt but resolved to re-cycle the information he had amassed in a new form. Hence the 'Dictionary of London'. The information in his 'Dictionary' would consist of place-names arranged alphabetically. Each entry would describe the street or building's precise location, give other forms of the name, and provide the earliest reference to it in original records. It would also state the cartographic survey on which the place was first named - Ogilby and Morgan's, 1676; John Rocque's, 1746; Richard Horwood's, 1792-1799, and the Ordnance Survey, mid-1870s. Then would follow a skeletal history of the place - this could sometimes be quite extensive - and finally it would give explanations as to why the place came by its name. There would be a volume for the City of London, and one or more volumes for Southwark and the City of Westminster. In the further the work might be extended to include all the Metropolitan Boroughs within the boundaries of the London County Council, and even places beyond its boundaries. For the moment, however, he concentrated on the City of London.

On 18th August 1910 Harben died. He was buried in Hampstead Cemetery. His London prints, maps, drawings, and books were left to the LCC. Subsequently the volume covering the city of London for the Dictionary was completed by Haben's long-time friend and associate, I.I. Greaves. In 1916 Greaves supplied the manuscript with a preface, and in 1918 the work was published by Herbert Jenkins Ltds, of York Street, St. James's. It consisted of a bulky volume of 641 pages, with John Norden's map of the City in 1593 serving as frontispiece, plans of the Priory of Blackfriars, the Holy Trinity Priory, and of the Precinct of White friars tipped in, and three newly complied maps of the City housed in a pocket inside the back cover.

Harben's Dictionary provides a remarkably thorough listing of all the streets, lanes, courts, alleys, rows, passages, and yards within the City of London and a few on the fringes. Besides these it also includes all the churches, chapels, gates, wharves, schools and commercial buildings, the major taverns and private houses in the city, and the railway termini. It occasionally betrays  its original intention of being a new Stow with entries for such subjects as conduits, compters (small prisons), London markets, London privileges, London sanctuaries and endowments to churches.

*Users of the Motco website, however, now have free access to the information in Harben.

**Information in this paragraph has been supplied by the London Metropolitan Archives, successor to the Archives of the LCC. Their sources were the minutes of the LCC and presented papers.

One thought on “Henry Harben and his ‘Dictionary of London’

  1. R.M.Healey

    I was sad to hear that Ralph Hyde had died.I first met him around 1983, when I was researching the life of one of London's more controversial sheriffs, J.W.Parkins (f. 1820).He was very helpful, particularly on the role another dubious character, Rowland Stephenson, played in Parkins' life. I helped Hyde with his pioneering book Panoramania, but following his retirement in 1999 saw nothing of him. As one eulogist has remarked recently, people like Hyde are rare in public office nowadays. He had the mind of a brilliant archivist and the passion of a true amateur–in the old sense of that word.


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